The football team’s 20-13 win Saturday in Buffalo was, in essence, the typical Mid-American Conference game.
CMU was favored going into the game, but the intangibles of the weather, delays and playing on the road kept it close. Buffalo was a good team, don’t get me wrong, but the game was close because of things that had nothing to do with skill.
And really, that is what to expect from the MAC this year. Regardless of the records of the teams, most games will be very close.
Coach Butch Jones always says the MAC is the most competitive conference in college football. In some ways, he might be right.
A perfect example of this is last Saturday’s game between Toledo and Ball State. Ball State came into the game 0-4, looking nothing like last year’s dominant team. Toledo, meanwhile, upset Colorado earlier in the season.
But it was the Cardinals leading heading into the fourth quarter and kept it until the final minute before Toledo scored on a 51-yard pass to win 37-30.
There is always a possibility the underdog team can rise to another level for even just one game (just ask CMU about Eastern the past few years).
As the MAC season continues to shape up, Northern Illinois has made its case for the best team in the conference.
Last Saturday, the Huskies destroyed Western Michigan (2-3, 1-1 MAC) 38-3 at home. Broncos quarterback Tim Hiller was held to less than 200 yards passing and NIU had 13 minutes more of possession time.
The Huskies (3-2, 1-0 MAC) also only lost to undefeated Wisconsin by eight in Madison, Wisc., to start the season and beat Purdue in West Lafeyette two weeks later.
CMU and NIU have prospered on each side of the ball. NIU is second in scoring offense (31.6 per game) while CMU is third (30.2). CMU has the best scoring defense (16.0) while NIU is second (18.6).
If CMU and NIU stay undefeated in MAC play, the game between the two the day after Thanksgiving could possibly decide who goes to Detroit the following week.
Down the stretch
But before a showdown with the Huskies can materialize, CMU still has to get there. And its path to that game is going to be difficult.
This Saturday, the team hosts Eastern Michigan (0-4, 0-1 MAC), who has had CMU’s number the last couple years. The Chippewas then travel to Kalamazoo the following week for a big rivalry game against the Broncos.
Although WMU has not played as well as everyone expected, this game will be one of the toughest of the season. CMU won a very dramatic midweek game in the cold two years ago by three points to clinch the MAC West title in Waldo Stadium.
The team also travels to Bowling Green on Oct. 24 and plays a non conference game in Boston College on Halloween.
The three-game road stretch against Western, Bowling Green and BC will most likely be a defining stretch. CMU will need to beat WMU and BGSU to stay ahead in the MAC West race and, if the team win’s out, the game against BC could be the one that gets them into the Top 25 for the first time in school history.
The final lead-up game to the potential showdown against NIU is against Toledo on Wed. Nov. 11 under the lights in Kelly/Shorts.
CMU’s 4-1 start has set it up for a potentially great season. Now all it needs to do is survive it.